Paul Tillich (1886-1965) was a major figure in twentieth-century theology. After holding several academic posts in Germany, he and his family moved to the United States in November 1933. He subsequently held teaching positions at Union Theological Seminary, Harvard Divinity School, and the University of Chicago Divinity School.
The author of several well-known books, he is possibly best remembered for his three-volume Systematic Theology. The present paper is an attempt to give a summary of Tillich’s theological method of correlation and offer an evaluation. 1. 1. Summary of Method In his Systematic Theology, Tillich undertakes this mediating task by exhibiting a correlation between religion and culture. Tillich begins by contrasting “kerygmatic” theology with “apologetic” theology. Kerygmatic theology “emphasizes the unchangeable truth of the message (kerygma) over against the changing demands of the situation. The relation between the two, he suggests, is like the correlation between “questioning” and “answering” in a conversation. Although Tillich maintains that the statements of apologetic theology must be based on the kerygma, his real concern is using what he terms “the ‘method of correlation’ as a way of uniting message and situation. ” When properly used, he says, this method “correlates questions and answers, situation and message, human existence and divine manifestation. Or it is like the correlation between “form” and “content” (or “substance”) in a work of art. Indeed, it is possible to correlate them because in concrete reality “religion” and “culture” are always a single whole of which “the form of religion is culture and the substance of culture is religion. ” Tillich suggests that the human condition always raises fundamental questions which human cultures express in various ways in the dominant styles of their works of art, and to which religious traditions offer answers expressed in religious symbols.
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Accordingly, he organizes his Systematic Theology into five parts. In each part a major biblical religious symbol is correlated as “answer” to a major human question as expressed by modern culture. Part I correlates the symbol “Logos” with modern culture’s form of the skeptical question: “How can we know with certainty any humanly important truth? ” Part II correlates the symbol “God as Creator” with modern culture’s expressions of the question of finitude: “How can we withstand the destructive forces that threaten to disintegrate our lives? Part III correlates the symbol “Jesus as the Christ” with modern culture’s secular expressions of the question of estrangement: “How can we find healing of the alienation we experience from ourselves and from our neighbors? ” Part IV correlates the symbol “Spirit” with modern culture’s expressions of the question of ambiguity: “How can our lives be authentic when our morality, religious practices, and cultural self-expressions are so thoroughly ambiguous? ” And Part V correlates the symbol “Kingdom of God” with the question: “Has history any meaning? ” 1. 2.
Evaluation Tillich’s existential diagnosis of the predicament of modern man leads him to formulate a norm for theology which isn’t any more convincing than the norms he dismisses. This observation leads back again to Tillich’s method of correlation. This method, he says, “explains the contents of the Christian faith through existential questions and theological answers in mutual interdependence. ” Although the questions arise from an existential “analysis of the human situation,” the answers “are contained in the revelatory events on which Christianity is based. Perhaps the best way to evaluate this method is to cite an illustration, offered by Tillich, of how this might actually look in practice. Suppose that our analysis of the human condition reveals that man, in his finitude, is threatened by the question of nonbeing. What sort of answer does Christian theology offer us? According to Tillich, “if the notion of God appears in systematic theology in correlation with the threat of nonbeing which is implied in existence, God must be called the infinite power of being which resists the threat of nonbeing. In classical theology this is being-itself. After discussing a quotation from Tillich in which he refers to the being of God as “being-itself,” George Thomas writes: “It seems to me that in the Christian message, ‘God’ means ‘a being,’ not ‘being itself. ‘ . . . He is a concrete individual, though an individual without the limits of finite individuals. He is not merely ‘the ground of everything personal’; He is personal Himself. If this is the Christian view, I wonder whether Tillich’s statement of it has not been weakened at points by the intrusion into his thinking of an impersonal philosophy alien to the spirit of Christianity. Tillich’s “method of correlation” often fails to do the very thing he claims for it, namely, to provide truly Christian answers to the questions of modern man. 1. 3. Conclusion Finally, his method of correlation as the way in which to mediate between faith and culture has been controversial. The controversy turns on whether such “correlation” does not finally result in translating the content of Christian faith without leaving remnants into the deepest convictions of the secular culture it attempts to address.
Theologians who have been influenced by Soren Kierkegaard or by Karl Barth charge that that is the outcome. Conversely, many theologians influential in the United States, such as Gilkey and David Tracy, are persuaded that Tillich was right and develop theological projects that employ some variant of Tillich’s method. BIBLIOGRAPHY Ford, David F. The Modern Theologians: An Introduction to Christian Theology since 1918. Malden, MA: Blackwell Publishing, 2005. Thomas, George F. “The Method and Structure of Tillich’s Theology. In The Theology of Paul Tillich, ed. Charles W. Kegley and Robert W. Bretall, 86-105. New York: The Macmillan Company, 1961. Thomas, J. Heywood. Paul Tillich: An Appraisal. Philadelphia: Westminster Press, 1963. Tillich, Paul. Systematic Theology. Vol. 1. Chicago: The University of Chicago Press, 1951. ——————————————– [ 2 ]. J. Heywood Thomas, Paul Tillich: An Appraisal (Philadelphia: Westminster Press, 1963), 14. [ 3 ]. Paul Tillich, Systematic Theology, vol. (Chicago: The University of Chicago Press, 1951), 4. [ 4 ]. Ibid, 8 [ 5 ]. Ibid [ 6 ]. Ibid, 63-68 [ 7 ]. Ibid, 60 [ 8 ]. Ibid, 62 [ 9 ]. Ibid, 64 [ 10 ]. Ibid [ 11 ]. George F. Thomas, “The Method and Structure of Tillich’s Theology,” in The Theology of Paul Tillich, ed. Charles W. Kegley and Robert W. Bretall (New York: The Macmillan Company, 1961), 104 [ 12 ]. See John Clayton, The Concept of Correlation, (Berlin, 1980). Quoted from The Modern Theologians: An Introduction to Christian Theology since 1918, David F.
Ford, (Malden, MA: Blackwell Publishing, 2005). [ 13 ]. See Kenneth Hamilton, System and the Gospel (New York, 1963); Alexander McKelway, The Systematic Theology of Paul Tillich (Detroit, MI, 1964). Quoted from The Modern Theologians: An Introduction to Christian Theology since 1918, David F. Ford, (Malden, MA: Blackwell Publishing, 2005). [ 14 ]. David Tracy, Blessed Rage for Order (New York, 1988). Quoted from The Modern Theologians: An Introduction to Christian Theology since 1918, David F. Ford, (Malden, MA: Blackwell Publishing, 2005).